As Thukral & Tagra – one of the hottest art collectives in Southeast Asia at the moment – returns for their second show, Gwen Pew talks to them about Bose DK, their new works and what escape means to them.
31 Mar 2013: Touted as one of the hottest up-and-coming art duos in South-East Asia at the moment – and named by Wallpaper* magazine as one of the top 101 emerging designers in the world – Indian artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra (known simply as Thukral and Tagra, or often abbreviated to just T&T) do everything together, from making art to designing clothes to collecting awards to answering questions for interviews.
The two Indian artists first met each other at the Chandigarh College of Arts in 1997, ‘when Jiten pretended to be a fresher and Sumir was applying for a course,’ they reminisce. ‘We never planned to work together – it just happened.’ The pair’s most well-known works stemmed from their idea of creating a fictitious brand in 2003, which they called ‘Bose DK’ as a cheeky reference to the common Punjabi swear word ‘bhosdi ke’, to comment on how art is becoming a mass-produced commodity in today’s society.
Their range of ‘fake’ products, which mostly consisted of t-shirts stuffed in jam jars, was showcased in a supermarket-like setting at the Nature Morte Gallery in New Delhi in 2007. ‘We used it as a performance piece by printing the word on t-shirts and making it look like a fake label,’ they say. ‘The idea was a hit, and everybody loved the limited edition pieces.’ (They also notoriously almost took Aamir Khan to court for the actor-producer’s popular track ‘Bhaag DK Bose’ – for which T&T accused him of copyright infringement – although the matter was later resolved ‘amicably’ outside of court.)
Since then, the pair have collaborated on a whole variety of projects together, including painting, sculpture, video, product design and music among others, which have been shown around the world in London, Paris, Berlin and Beijing – as well as several galleries in Singapore. They also participated in an artist residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) in 2009, which resulted in the series ‘Low-Tech Family Vacations’ the year after.
They’re back for a new show at Art Plural Gallery, entitled ‘Windows of Opportunity’. A common theme that can be found in most of T&T’s works – which are collected by celebrities such as Elton John and Frank Cohen – is the desire to escape. More specifically, they often choose to focus on local Indians’ dreams of escaping to the West, as well as the challenges and realities they face as a consequence. While they make it clear that they have personally never wanted to escape, they do acknowledge that travelling around the world with their shows has made them more aware of things around them.
‘You become more sensitive, and it broadens your understanding,’ they elaborate. ‘We are curious to know how things are in different cultures and societies and eager to know more from different audiences.’ T&T both come from graphic/ product designer backgrounds, and although traces of that can certainly still be seen in their pop art pieces, their art-making process still remains very hands-on. ‘It starts from a sketch that is detailed out digitally, which is then projected onto the canvas,’ they explain. ‘We follow a traditional way of drawing and painting, so everything is pure oil on canvas.’
Their new show draws from their 2009 ‘Escape! For the Dreamland’ series (from the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery) – specifically a piece from the show entitled ‘Windows of Opportunity’, which inspired this exhibition’s title. The work transforms the wall space into the side of a train with Indian passengers seen through the individual airplane-like windows.
Around 15 new works will be displayed in this new exhibition, including two large oil paintings and a collection of smaller works. ‘[The new pieces] are in continuation with the works we have been doing, but they are definitely more intense than the others. The canvases are smaller but more detailed,’ they say. ‘The theme is based on pinball or pachinko machines, and [viewers] can mix-match the faces and the narrative.’
Furthermore, T&T is creating a site-specific installation at the gallery, which involves a racetrack looping around the space and weaving in and out of the walls. ‘We usually like the idea of changing the spaces,’ they say. ‘We like to experiment and challenge the traditional way of interacting with art. By adding one object, we will change the space and the meaning of viewing art in a white cube space.’